Plus, the future of Level 1 Productions after its final annual ski film, Romance, this fall
INTERVIEW • Jack Foersterling| PHOTOS • Courtesy of Level 1
As far as Josh Berman is concerned, he was born with skiing in his blood. His parents met working at Stratton Mountain in southern Vermont—his father, a ski patroller, and, his mother, a waitress at the base lodge bar. They put Josh on skis at the age of three, and he’s skied every year since.
While attending Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Berman committed to taking winter trimesters off to ski between December and March. While, he admits, he didn’t have the skills to compete for a spot on the U.S. Ski Team, he was a capable skier with some tricks up his sleeve, and one captivated by the burgeoning newschool freestyle ski scene that emerged in the late ’90s.
Unfortunately, a season-ending knee injury in early January of 2000 brought 21-year-old Berman to a crossroads. Already committed to taking off time from school but unable to ski, Berman found the next best option—filming his friends skiing. That year, Berman put out his first film on VHS, Balance, and Level 1 Productions was born. Now, 20 years later, Level 1 has more than secured its place among the best of the best in ski filmmaking.
In celebration of its two-decade anniversary and the announcement of its final annual ski film, Romance, the crew at Level 1 is producing a podcast recapping the last 20 years of films and stories. Each week, Josh Berman sits down with Level 1 summer intern Conor Smith and co-director Freedle Coty to talk about each of company’s previous films. In addition to the podcast, the movie featured on each week’s podcast is also available to stream for free—for that week only.
To get the scoop on what it’s been like making ski movies for the last 20 years, and what’s in store for the future of Level 1 Productions, we caught up with Josh Berman at his Denver office for a Q&A.
How did the idea for Level 1 come about?
Initially, I was just kind of biding my time until my knee healed. I had already committed to taking school off for the winter and didn’t want to go back, so I was wondering what I was going to do to at least keep myself busy. At the time, I was working with a photographer, Jeff Winterton, and I suggested—semi-casually—hey, maybe I should make a ski movie.
I don’t know if he came up with the idea or I came up with the idea, but he was super supportive and said I should do it. He was already setting up trips and shoots and connecting with people that were participating in the sport and I was really just tagging alongside shooting videos as he was shooting photos. That’s really how it got started.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned over the last 20 years?
Absolutely nothing. I have learned nothing whatsoever. [Laughs]
No, I’ve learned that I’m very fortunate to have been able to figure out how to make this all work. There are not a lot of other people that have been able to make it work so I feel very lucky. I’ve learned that I love the sport and what it stands for, and I love so many of the people that I‘ve had the opportunity to work with.
Skiing has definitely changed a lot over the last two decades, and so has the art of ski filmmaking. What are the biggest changes you’ve experienced during Level 1’s tenure in the ski movie business?
It’s a blessing and a curse how technology has changed things. The ability as a filmmaker or content producer to put your content out there, publish it yourself and be able to reach people is amazing. The barriers-to-entry are virtually non-existent and I love that.
But that ease-of-use also creates a glut of bullshit and, I think, that does take away from the experience of watching content that’s truly special. It also just numbs people to stuff to the point where—ski movies are a great example but it applies to so many other genres—there are no secrets or surprises anymore. The idea of watching a ski movie for the first time and witnessing everything being truly new and unique and special has become few and far between, which is unfortunate.
If you could go back and talk to 21-year-old Josh Berman in his dorm room at Dartmouth, what advice would you give him?
I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I think one of the secrets to our success is my business naiveté, in the fact that I never had a business plan, I never had expectations and it created a situation in which I was always very conservative. I feel like if I had gone into this “guns blazing” saying I’m going make a ski movie company and do this and this and this, that we probably would have failed because I would have come up very short on everything. I did it for the opportunity to travel to a bunch of different places with amazing people and do something that I am proud of.
So, who came up with the idea for the podcast series?
I’m going to give a big thumbs up and high five to our summer intern, Connor, for that idea. He took it upon himself to go back and watch the old movies and ask me questions. I found myself spitting out these stories and recollections from over the years.
More than anything else, doing the podcast has brought back so many fond memories. This podcast has been an opportunity to share so many different stories that either haven’t ever been shared or haven’t been told in many, many years.
Romance has been announced as the “last annual ski film” for you guys. What’s in-store for the future of Level 1 Productions?
For me, naming this as our 20th and final annual film are words I chose very carefully. I think we all have a desire to mix things up, and the reality is that I am personally so invested in these films that I can’t do much else.
For other production companies, in skiing and other action sports, that have been doing annual films for many years, the people that either founded it or played big a role early on have replaced themselves. They hand off the reigns to other people and they go off to do other things. I’ve just never been able to do that— Level 1 is my baby.
We all wanted to get to this high water mark of number 20 then push the pause button. I think, creatively, we want to mix things up, explore other opportunities, ideas and other avenues as filmmakers. [We’re aiming to] grow our business and do more short form content and other things we have more control over. I’m pretty excited about the future.
What can we look forward to seeing in this year’s film?
I think we can expect one of, if not the strongest, collections of ski action we’ve ever put together. We had such an unbelievably talented crew in front of the lens this year—and behind the lens as well—and I don’t want to say we’re going out with a bang, but this is no casual “farewell” movie.
We’re definitely going to tie in that it’s a 20-year film and talk about the past, but the bulk of the movie isn’t going to be highlighting our greatest hits—its going to be playing some of the strongest and biggest and best action we’ve shot yet.
Level 1 Productions’ 20th and final annual film installment, Romance, will debut its world premiere in Denver, Colorado on September 21 at the Summit Theater.